After a 13-3 season that saw the Cowboys reclaim the NFC East and return to the play-offs, the offseason is finally upon us. The Cowboys future is certainly bright after two rookies set the league on fire offensively. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot both played at a high level in year one behind this offensive line and the receiving corp picked up their game from last year as they actually had solid QB play in the absence of Tony Romo. The cloud that is hanging over this team still remains its pass rush.
DeMarcus Lawrence was billed as the player who would (at least come close) replace DeMarcus Ware. Lawrence has had 9 sacks since his entry to the league. In that same span, Ware has had 21.5. Lawrence has to be better. Unfortunately the battle with his back has been far greater than the battle of sack leader. For the second straight year he has had offseason back surgery.
The Cowboys have sought to find talent else where, but to no avail. Their most promising rusher can’t stay on the field. After missing 14 games last year, Randy Gregory will miss the entire season this year. Jack Crawford has not taken that next step from being JAG. Their free agent acquistion who was brought in to supplement their pass rush, Benson Mayowa, became their sack leader. Other young acquired talent still needs to develop. David Irving gave them some good minutes, but both him and Mayowa were inconsistent. Mayowa was benched for three games and Irving only had four sacks. An interesting note that out of their combined 10 sacks, 7 came in three games. The Cowboys second leader in sacks, Tyrone Crawford has also battled injuries for the last two years.
The Cowboys had 36 sacks last season. The Kryptonite for this defense is creating pressure off the edges. More talent is needed. Causing a quarterback to hurry his movements and reads are not enough. The Cowboys need Defensive Ends who can get home, all the way to the Quarterback, and do so consistently in about 3.19 seconds (average QB release time before being sacked). This number is an average that has variables such as progressions, type of route, offensive line performance and type of play pre/post snap. Who is getting there for the Cowboys? Mostly the Defensive Tackles. Players listed as DTs (Note that Irving and T. Crawford are DTs) have 17.5 sacks while pure Defensive Ends had 15.5 sacks last year.
Where do the Cowboys look to for Pass Rush help? Free agency is one way, but this comes with a price- a price that might be too high even after the Cowboys reconstruct some of their contracts. Even then, the only premium talent on the market is Jason Pierre-Paul and Chandler Jones. It seems highly unlikely that the Cowboys would gamble on Dion Jordan, a player with more of a drug issue than Gregory.
This leaves the draft. Mock drafts have the Cowboys being linked with a Defensive End with their 28th pick. Most notably Takkarist McKinley, Carl Lawson or Taco Carlton. I prefer Takk and Lawson as they have proven in college that they have the athleticism to get to the quarterback in that 3.19 seconds. These are the type of athletes that could change not only the game but how other Offenses play you. Teams will chip them with TEs or straight up double team them giving other rushers more of a chance to make a play.
Some of the experts have Tight End as a high priority position in this draft for this team. I disagree. Future Hall of Famer Jason Witten still finds ways to get open on a consistent basis. James Hanna and Geoff Swaim (terrific run blockers) are set to return after their season ending injuries and Rico Gathers will have a year of NFL coaching under his belt after spending the year on the practice squad. The three TEs behind Witten are young and athletic. I say give them time to develop before you draft another Tight End. O.J. Howard, Jake Butt and Evan Engram are all great Tight Ends but would not have the impact as a good Pass Rusher for this team.
Instead, how about not only drafting one at 28th, but also in the second or third round? Even though it is early, players like Duwane Smoot, Tim Williams, Derek Rivers, Chris Harris, DeMarcus Walker or Tanoh Kpassagnon should be there should the Cowboys choose to invest a premium pick on a second pass rusher on day two of the NFL draft.
The Cowboys have a Top 5 offense, the number one rusher in the NFL and arguably the best offensive line. This offense is built to succeed. The defense on the other hand is ranked 26th in Passing Defense. The fact that they are tops in run defense and 5th in scores allowed suggest that they are only a few players from being a dominant Defense. You have two picks from last year, Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper that will give them much needed help this year if they are healthy. Adding two more pass rushers and replacing two of their impending free agents in the secondary could make this team just as dangerous on defense that it is on offense. So many events that need to be unrolled before the draft gets here. So much work needing to be done, but one way or another, the Cowboys need two more impactful pass rushers. This draft class is as deep as it has been in a while. All the Cowboys have to do is find them. A task simpler said than done.